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  • Jen Dunlap

Crossing the Threshold of Adulthood

Updated: Feb 27

As a kid I could tell that it was different to be an adult. Adults got headaches and seemed to find different things funny, and they didn't whine much.


The not whining was a big one. Kids let you know when they're hungry. Adults don't. This was my first big revelation one night when we were out for dinner as a family. We kids had talked about being hungry for the whole car ride over, and when we sat down my dad quietly inhaled his food. I thought "He was hungry, but he didn't say anything! Wow, that must be part of being an adult."


One day, perhaps age 10, I decided to be super helpful with the laundry. All afternoon I sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away. It was epic, and my parents were proud. I was totally spent, but happy with myself for getting in and doing what needed to be done. My dad decided to take me to the grocery store that evening, and when we were there he asked if there was anything I wanted for a treat, since I had been so helpful.


I stood there so tired I couldn't really think of anything I wanted, quite out of character. I suddenly thought of my parents and how they couldn't tell me what they wanted for birthdays, which didn't really make sense, and then I understood how you could be so spent that your self would fade away and you couldn't think about anything fun. I stood there thinking "this must be what it feels like to be an adult," and just said, "I think we need more laundry detergent."

My dad cajoled me a bit and I rallied and picked out a bag of Rold Gold pretzels.


Losing some impatience was a sign around age 20. Before that, when I went to practice the piano or try another thing that I wanted to be good at but hadn't invested the time for, I was intensely frustrated with myself and would leave the piano sad. Then it changed. I accepted the fact that I wasn't good because I hadn't put in the time, and enjoyed just using my hands on the keys to relax.


Getting married and having a kid edged me towards adulthood, but the moment of truth came when I had the stomach flu during my baby's first year.

I'd always dreaded the stomach flu, and felt fortunate not to get it often. Now it was different. I was glad that the baby wasn't sick, and the stomach flu didn't seem so bad (somehow) after kidney stones and childbirth. I sat on the edge of the bed and threw up into the little trashcan while I nursed the baby, and thought how ridiculous it was to be doing both . at the same time, losing food two ways. In between throwing up I was laughing.

And then I thought "Now I'm adult". It wasn't going to take months before I could laugh at the crazy awful moment, I could laugh while it was happening, because my perspective window had collapsed.

A couple of years ago, my 4-year-old heard me tell this story to someone, and next time she got sick she said "I'm being brave when I'm sick. Now I'm an adult."


Did you have a moment that adulthood seemed suddenly real?


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©2018 by Jennifer Dunlap